Poulter puts Lefty in shade as ying and yang meet

But what would mummy say if their daughter brought Ian Poulter home? The ying and yang of golfing personalities came together in game number eight yesterday, the apple pie and bombe surprise of the circuit.

The third member of the group, the darkly clothed Trevor Immelman, would have looked sombre enough outside this company. "In most groups I'm pretty much the anonymous person," the South African, who is nicely settled at six under, said. "Ian's got flamboyance in the way he dresses and the way he plays."

Poulter, who likes a chat and wears pants loud enough to burst an eardrum, is that rare combination. All trousers as well as mouth. Yesterday he was relatively restrained, his dark strides patterned with blue tartan below the knee. Perhaps, at 29, he is calming down. Perhaps there will be no more red Ferraris, slivers of facial hair or streaked tresses. Perhaps.

Certainly, the youthful anger is still there. Poulter was bad for most of yesterday's round, even if the original angst belonged to Mickelson.

It was a sinister start for Lefty. His celebrated greenside finesse had not warmed up by the time he was too delicate with a short pitch from the rough to the left of the first and subsequently missed a tiddler. His was a slow, reflective tread towards the second tee, a journey probably not helped by Poulter next to him, tossing his ball up and down frivolously. Mickelson's was the sort of body language which had no place in a family newspaper.

That, however, was swiftly negated by a 20-foot putt on two. A congratulatory shake of the fist greeted the birdie, but Mickelson did not hold on to the lucky ball for long. That went to a little girl on the next tee who had been inspired to create a cardboard message of support for the American hero. By the fifth, fortunately, she was out of earshot. Poulter found another bunker here and took time to compose himself in a players' portable loo. He came back through the door as if on a dawn raid, using the sort of language that would get you thrown off a building site.

The back nine, however, was to bring greatly contrasting theatre. At the 12th, Poulter walked up to find a bad lie in a greenside bunker. He furiously extricated the sand wedge from his bag and then missed the birdie opportunity collected by his playing partners. At that stage, the prospect of the Milton Keynes man missing the cut loomed. The eyes must have been narrow behind the sunglasses.

"It was not a great start," Poulter reported later. "I didn't feel comfy out there and didn't hit it great. Every time I seemed to drive it I found a bunker and when you do that at St Andrews it's tough. I had to play out sideways three times today and it's easy to make bogeys when you're chipping out of bunkers. I just made a meal of the front nine."

At the 15th, Cartgate (in), the Poulter rhythm dramatically returned and it remained for the closing four holes. All were birdied. The 17th witnessed the greatest triumph, as the reassuring figures of Ronnie Corbett and Bruce Forsyth in the gardens of the Old Course Hotel watched golf's light entertainer chase an eight-iron out of the rough to six feet. At two under he is just about still in it.

"When you're having a bad day it's easy to let your head go down," Poulter said. "It's easy to start thinking 'Oh my God, I'm really struggling'. You've got to stay positive. I need a kick up the backside sometimes. You're frustrated and angry, but, as long as you channel that in the right way, you can do great things. Like four birdies.

"I said to myself 'It's not over till it's over' and I hit four fantastic shots to finish. The cumulative length of my putts for those holes was probably 18 feet. If I keep playing like I played the last four holes we're in for a great weekend. I've got a great round in me. I play this golf course great."

Plenty of great rounds are now required if the foreboding figure at the top of the leaderboard is to be reeled in. Mickelson walked off the 18th yesterday, his splay-footed waddle suggesting he was wearing skis, and announced he was not yet a factor in the tournament. This despite the fact he had played the inward nine in seven shots fewer than the previous day.

Mickelson requested that high winds arrive to produce a more random element to proceedings, preferably after his round today has finished. "I need to go pretty low on Saturday to get into contention," the Californian said. "I'm not quite in contention yet. At least I put myself in with a chance that if I did shoot a low round then I'll be in contention for Sunday.

"It was a round where I made a lot of birdies and then I made a couple of dumb little mistakes, but, starting the day, I'd certainly have taken five under and be where I'm at."

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